Shelf Life

EXCERPT: The Money Class

Christina Huh Mar 18, 2011

Chapter 1
The New American Dream

The American Dream. As a concept, it is so ingrained in our collective imagination that it doesn’t even need to be defined, right? Think about it: Did you ever need to have it explained to you? My guess is you did not and that even from a young age, you, like me, knew it represented a promise– of opportunity, of possibility–that came with being American.

But on closer inspection, it is not just an American impulse that the American Dream describes, it is a human one, and it unites us. No matter your socioeconomic, ethnic, or religious background, we all aspire to the same things: We seek to provide for our family and keep them safe, no matter what shape that family takes, no matter if we are talking about our parents or our children, a blended family or a family “by choice,” not blood. We want future generations to have even more opportunity than we ourselves have, a dream that is intrinsically linked with education and the advancement that follows from it.

We want to live in a home that is secure in every sense– as a haven for our loved ones and as a wise place to have spent our money. We want the guarantee that our hard work will pay off, that it will support us financially, that it will allow us to achieve our goals, and that when it is time to stop working, we will reap the benefits of those years of dedicated service and live out the rest of our lives comfortably in retirement.

How truly terrifying, then, to take stock of the American Dream today and to question the truth of it– to wonder if it still exists in reality or if it has become an illusion, a myth. Take a look around: As of December 2010, more than 14 million Americans were out of work; another 9 million were working only part- time because they cannot find full-time employment. That is 23 million people who are struggling to make ends meet.

In many areas of the country, the dream of homeownership has backfired. Real estate values have deflated to such an extent that a record number of people owe more than their homes are worth.

Because of the dire economic conditions of recent years, many parents are unable to afford the high cost of college tuition for their children. And there is a record number of student loans in default, making people question whether they ever should have taken them on to begin with.

The sum total of all these facts and figures? The home, the job security, the education, the retirement– the very standard of living that all of us took for granted for so long is completely under siege.

The epic financial crisis–and there really is no other way to describe it–that began in 2008 may have delivered a decisive blow to the stubborn optimism that we held on to in spite of the on- the-ground reality of how our financial lives have been marked by increasing struggle. For many, the crisis was a rude awakening; for others, it was a grim confirmation of the creeping anxiety we’ve been feeling about how we are going to make it all work. Either way, it is hard to find a family that was untouched by this financial disaster. It was a galvanizing moment for us as a nation– it has forced us to reckon with our beliefs in our country and our individual ideals.

Is it time, then, to pronounce the American Dream dead?

In many ways it pains me to say this, but in my opinion the American Dream as we knew it is dead.

But listen to me: That is not such a bad thing. The old American Dream has been in need of revision for quite some time; we have just been very good at avoiding that truth. It’s time to take that dream back into our hands and reshape it. It’s time to create a New American Dream that is based in honesty, authenticity, good intentions, and genuine need.

What is important to understand is that the American Dream is not something to put your faith in, to pray for, to embrace blindly, and hope that everything turns out okay– despite its long, dependable run. Rather, it is a concept, a loose set of goals that beg for individualization. The American Dream was never one-size-fits-all. The New American Dream asks you to fashion a dream that suits you– not one based on false premises and the expectations of others. It asks you to take measure of your own needs and understand what it will take to provide for yourself and those around you– your family, your community, and those less fortunate.

The truth is, we are on the threshold of an important moment. We can come together, right here, right now, and each one of us can envision our own New American Dream– a dream that is rooted in reality, not superficiality; in truth and integrity, not illusion and falsehood.

Excerpted from THE MONEY CLASS by Suze Orman Copyright © 2011 by Suze Orman. Excerpted by permission of Random House Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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